We haven't spent much time in Japanese playgrounds but we're pretty sure their sticker economy is out of whack. British school kids know that a person's worth is measured by the number of sticky-backed football players living in their pocket. This writer once saw someone eat a crisp out of a gutter in order to seal the deal on a shiny Man City club logo.
Such behaviour doesn't fly in Japan, not, at least, based on Sticker Star's blasé approach to the hobby. The game practically gives the things away, sticking them on walls, bushes, trees, fences, logs... it's sticker hyperinflation of the worst kind.
It makes sense in context. In Paper Mario: Sticker Star stickers are life. Mario can't attack, heal, solve puzzles or go to the toilet (probably) without stickers. It's a land so crazed for stickers they named their capital Decalburg. All commerce revolves around stickers, the only topic of conversation is stickers and the major social event is the annual Sticker Fest. It's the stuff of the Panini CEO's wildest dreams and is probably a result of the world's atmosphere being 95 per cent glue fumes. Look under the adhesive addiction, however, and there's a familiar game.
After Super Paper Mario's 2D/3D flip-flopping, Sticker Star returns to the 3D papercraft world that defined the first two Paper Mario games. Hooray, we say. After Super Paper Mario, the only sticker our paper-thin plumber needed was a Band-Aid. His Wii quest was a bloated misstep: big on charm, light on substance.
Intelligent System's appetite for innovation took Mario out of his RPG comfort zone into shallow action-RPG territory. Kudos to the team for not resting on their laurels, but did it really need changing? They were some damn comfy laurels.
Got Got Got Got
We're back in the land of turn-based battles spiced up with action commands that reward timed button presses with bonus bursts of damage or defence. This extra layer of interaction has always separated Paper Mario from other drab, menu-prodding RPGs and still works its magic now. If you played the N64 or GameCube instalments you'll sense muscle memory kicking in within minutes. Tapping A just before you squish a Goomba, or as the hammer reaches the apex of its swing, is just as satisfying now as it was in 2004.
There's a catch: in order to perform a move, you need the relevant sticker and stickers are single-use only. As such, every individual attack has to be foraged from the world or purchased from sticker shops. In practice, it means that, while Mario's moveset is almost unchanged from the first two games - a mix of jumps, hammers and traditional Mario power-ups - access to attacks differs from battle to battle. To begin with it plays as fussily as it sounds: you spend the first few hours either cursing the lack of desired moves, or obsessively collecting every sticker in a state of deranged paranoia.
The trick is to go with the flow and adapt to whatever hand the game throws you. You could enter and exit a level repeatedly in order to stock up on overpowered Hopslippers (10 jumps instead of one) or Line Jumps (bopping along multiple foes), but it's more fun to embrace the quirkier corners of Mario's arsenal. Getting to grips with spiked helmets, ninja stars, sleepy sheep hammers and projectile-swatting raccoon tails is more compelling than pulling off the same move 20 times in a row... and that's before you discover the wonder that is Goat Attack.